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Verizon numbers hint Apple may have shipped more than 50M iPhones last quarter

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The latest iPhone activation data from Verizon suggests Apple may have shipped more than 50 million iPhones during the 2012 holiday season.

Verizon announced earlier Tuesday that the iPhone accounted for 6.2 million of the 9.8 million smartphones the carrier activated last quarter. With nearly two-thirds of new smartphone activations at Verizon, it was the best performance yet for the iPhone on the largest carrier in the U.S.

Over the past six quarters, Verizon has accounted for 11 percent of Apple's total iPhone shipments, analyst Brian White of Topeka Capital Markets noted on Tuesday.

If that 11 percent holds for the December quarter, it would mean Apple shipped a whopping 56 million iPhones during the three-month period. Even if Verizon accounted for 12 percent of iPhones shipped in the quarter, White noted, it would still result in 51 million iPhones shipped.

The 6.2 million iPhones activated by Verizon were double the 3.1 million the carrier activated in the third quarter of calendar 2012.

Verizon also announced that the iPhone 5 accounted for about half of the iPhones activated in the quarter, which suggests strong sales for the iPhone 4S and iPhone 4.

Total smartphone activations were up 44 percent quarter over quarter at Verizon, with the iPhone accounting for 63 percent of all smartphone activations. That's much higher than the 47 percent average the iPhone has had with Verizon over the last five quarters, White said.

In comparison, in the 2011 holiday season, the iPhone accounted for 56 percent of smartphones activated at Verizon following the launch of the iPhone 4S.

Separately, Brian Marshall of ISI Group said Verizon's iPhone activations are supportive of his estimate of 48 million iPhones in the December quarter. And Amit Daryanani from RBC Capital Markets also said Verizon's numbers bode well for his projection of more than 46 million iPhones.

Earlier this month, rival carrier AT&T announced it had sold 10 million smartphones in the holiday quarter. At least 8 million of those are expected to be iPhones.

Daryanani sees Apple having sold more than 16 million iPhones in the U.S. alone during the quarter, with 8.1 million at AT&T and another 1.7 million at Sprint.

He expects domestic catalysts for the iPhone will slow going forward, with the addition of carrier T-Mobile later this year representing the last catalyst in the U.S. for the current iPhone lineup. But Daryanani also believes the international market will continue to spur growth for Apple.